Aidan_Kierans

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Utopic Nightmares

I think at least some people do, but I don't have a good argument or evidence to support that claim. Even if your only terminal values are more traditional conceptions of utility, diversity still serves those values really well. A homogenous population is not just more boring, but also less resilient to change (and pathogens, depending on the degree of homogeneity). I think it would be shortsighted and overconfident to design a optimal, identical population since they would lack the resilience and variety of experience to maintain that optimally once any problems appeared.

On "Epistemic Trespassing" and Intellectual Modesty

You're right that Ballantyne mainly focuses on epistemic trespassing as something related to question answering rather than question posing. I think this is related to his definition of a field as "an extremely narrow set of questions”; obviously trying to answer a set of questions without any of the relevant evidence and skills (that someone who works in the field has) would be trespassing. On the other hand, asking questions you're not qualified to answer seems a lot more benign; there's no expectation of reliability and little expectation of responsibility.

I suppose it's still possible to cause harm in a way that resembles epistemic trespassing by asking questions. For example, a 9/11 truther with any Twitter following could sow confusion by asking "What's the temperature at which steel beams melt?" when a plane crash investigator would dismiss that and instead ask "What's the temperature at which steel beams lost most of their structural integrity?" What makes these questions important is not just their relation to the relevant field(s) of expertise, but their relation to the facts: the answer to the former question is a temperature higher than that at which jet fuel burns, and the answer to the latter is of course lower than the temperature of burning jet fuel. By asking the former and not the latter, the 9/11 truther uses their ignorance to portray an event with clear causes and explanations as fraught with mystery and open questions.

It seems like a strange conclusion however to say that many people are unqualified to ask many questions (that is, questions that relate to fields they haven't studied). Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the reason the 9/11 truther is trespassing (and not merely curious) is that they're asking questions in front of an audience (their Twitter followers) that sees them as an expert on that sort of question. Thus, the truther is irresponsibility speaking on behalf of the crash investigators, just as Linus Pauling spoke irresponsibility on behalf of the medical establishment.

Utopic Nightmares

Maybe there's a combination of birth and environment conditions that maximize utility for an individual, but we may have different values for society in general which would lead to a lower overall utility for a society of identical people. For example, we generally value diversity, and I think the utility function we use for society in general would probably return a lower result for a population of identical optimally born/raised people than for a diverse population of slightly-less-than-optimally born/raised people. 

On "Epistemic Trespassing" and Intellectual Modesty

If I'm understanding you correctly, it seems like your worry with applying (D1) to pseudoscience is that it feeds into confirmation bias by making you feel like you're right to dismiss something you already don't think is useful (in a way that you wouldn't dismiss it if you did think it was useful). As I summarize in the next paragraph, Ballantyne agrees with you that it's easy to apply (D1) too often, but maybe even this case that's supposed to be an example of using (D1) correctly is problematic.

Being charitable to Ballantyne, we can imagine that his "considered view" that "astrologers' evidence and skills do not constitute a reliable method for establishing their claims" is supported by testimony from trusted, reliable, and relevant experts (physicists, astronomers, etc.) who have debunked astronomy without controversy. Thus, there's no reason to check horoscope when trying to predict whether a date he's planning will go well (for example), because he has good reason to believe that there's nothing valuable to learn from it.

Religion, postmodernism, and critical theory all seem more controversial to me than things like astrology. Without the broad rejection by the educated public that astrology has, it seems like religion and the rest would (and should) appear more difficult to trespass upon safely. In other words, pseudoscience is an edge case not just because we already believe it's useless, but because almost everyone thinks it's useless, and there are plenty of trustworthy and accessible resources explaining why.  This is unusual though, so when it comes to religion, postmodernism, and critical theory, “reasonably accepting (D1) will typically require considerable effort,” as it should.

That said, I'm not super familiar with debates about postmodernism and even less so with critical theory, so I may have mischaracterized the debates on those fields' usefulness. 

Research Motivations and "The Division of Cognitive Labor"

I'm not sure whether this is true of chemistry, but the research process you describe certainly sounds plausible. As you say, there may be many cases in which the distribution of labor doesn't matter, because researching different theories looks the same.  One area in which researching different theories looks different is research into what killed the dinosaurs. Producing geological evidence relevant to the hypothesis that volcanoes killed the dinosaurs means digging at different sites from those you would investigate for evidence about whether a meteor killed the dinosaurs. There might be sites that contain evidence relevant to both, but for the most part, research is planned by using the data we already have to look at sites where we expect to find volcanic ash or meteorite craters. 

If everyone was satisfied with the answer that the meteor killed the dinosaurs, we'd miss out on the ways that volcanic activity contributed to the extinction event.

University of Amsterdam (UvA), Master's Artificial Intelligence

Other possibilities for earning money is to try to find a thesis at other institutions that pay their students like CWI, Mila,,that or CHAI in Berkeley (for all these, I know students who did their thesis there).

Prospective student here; what finding a thesis at another institution entail? Would a student who wanted to do this begin by emailing professors at these institutions about their research, applying to their "visiting researcher" programs, or something else?

Ritual Report: NYC Less Wrong Solstice Celebration

I may be nine years too late to make any kind of difference, but I would caution against any strong attachment to H.P. Lovecraft in particular due to his astounding racism. His fears about the unknown and the "others" are perhaps most apparently race-related in The Shadow Over Innsmouth (it's easy to see how the fishmen are an allegorical representation of people with skin colors Lovecraft didn't like) but in general I think the fact that Lovecraft was super racist is a compelling reason not to hold him up as an icon of rationality, even if some of the non-racist or only-racist-in-context themes of his work are valuable or relatable.

Quick Thoughts on Immoral Mazes

America has contracted the maze disease, and it continues to fester. In other words, even if large corporations with deep hierarchies are actually less prevalent than they once were, the maze cultures in those that exist are far, far more developed.

Some evidence in support of this hypothesis (and by extension, Zvi's claim that mazes are on the rise) is the prevalence of oligopolies in America and the world. It's hard to buy affordable food without indirectly buying from Nestle for example, and in many of America's food deserts the only nearby place to buy food in the first place is a supermarket that's part of a massive chain. Most Americans have only 1-3 options when it comes to internet service providers, and media companies like Disney routinely buy or merge with their competition (which somewhat prevents startups from being as disruptive to deep hierarchies as they could otherwise be).

I'm somewhat suspicious of this explanation, because in a culture where non-maze opportunities are opening up more and more, it seems like mazes should die. I think people's behavior is more dependent on context than it is on these subtle cultural influences, so I expect to see larger effect sizes from incentive structures changing than from negative cultures slowly festering over time. But perhaps it's a factor. 

Even when people choose to buy from individuals, they often do so through corporate mediators. For example, to reach an audience, an indie musician will probably upload their music to DistroKid which will allow people to download or stream the music through other corporate platforms; in some sense, this makes the musicians beholden in some way to the whims of DistroKid's and other corporations' whims. Similarly, people who design their own crafts or clothing can sell them online independently, but much of this business takes place through a platform like Etsy or Redbubble which likewise introduces a maze to an otherwise individualized and direct process/transaction. Ridesharing services, Airbnb, and the rise of the "gig economy" fit into the same pattern of individual, atomically voluntary participation at the bottom of what is ultimately a deep hierarchy. 

Thus, there may be fewer giant corporations in America than there were 60-70 years ago, but those that remain seem to have deeper hierarchies than ever because incentive structures favor participation in corporate hierarchies even in a culture of independence and self-sufficiency. In that sense, I think your intuition that incentive structures overpower cultural influence is correct, but I disagree about which element favors/disfavors mazes.